Put aside the crossword puzzle and push the ginkgo biloba to the back of the shelf. The key to better memory may lie in three letters: ERC.
That stands for entorhinal cortex, the part of the brain that is the gateway to the hippocampus, which is responsible for processing information into memories. In the first study of its kind, scientists showed that when the ERC is activated with electrodes, spatial memory--the kind that helps you orient yourself or find your car in a parking lot--improves.
The unusual study involved a handful of patients with epilepsy who already had electrodes implanted into various parts of their brains to identify the source of their seizures. Alzheimer's researchers used the opportunity to apply deep-brain stimulation while testing the patients on a virtual memory task--a video game in which they drove a taxi. The drivers had to find their way to six locations to deliver their passengers; during half of the trips, the scientists stimulated different parts of the patients' brains. When trips to all six destinations were repeated, patients chose shorter routes and arrived sooner at the locations they had learned while their ERC was being activated than to those learned without stimulation, suggesting that they remembered those routes better. It's not clear whether the same kind of stimulation will help other types of memory, but it's a start.
How Did Zebras Get Their Stripes?
One of the most distinctive patterns in the animal kingdom may owe its existence to the lowly horsefly. A new study shows that the voracious insect, which delivers painful bites and transmits disease, is most attracted to solid-colored hides. That may explain why zebra embryos start with dark skin but develop narrow, alternating black and white stripes before they're born.
White Coats, White Lies
We consistently rank doctors among the most trustworthy members of society, but it seems the respect isn't mutual. In a 2009 survey of physicians around the U.S., a surprising percentage said they weren't completely honest with their patients. That included sugarcoating patients' prospects for recovery and failing to disclose financial conflicts of interest. Fear of malpractice suits and well-intentioned concern may be driving the fibs, but patients say they'd rather be trusted with the truth.
34% of doctors don't feel required to disclose medical errors to patients
10% of doctors said they had told their patients something untrue in the previous year
55% of doctors admit to being more positive about patients' prospects than was medically justified
Sources: Journal of Experimental Biology; Health Affairs; Psychological Science in the Public Interest; New England Journal of Medicine
Receiving an Alzheimer's diagnosis is confusing enough, but recently revised guidelines that redefine the earliest symptoms of the neurodegenerative condition may muddle things even further for doctors and patients.